Barack Obama has backed conservative West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin’s voting rights proposal, describing it as a “product of compromise” as the landmark legislation approaches a crucial vote in the US Senate on Tuesday.
The former US president, as did his wife and former first lady, Michelle Obama, weighed in, condemning Republican efforts in many statehouses across the country to enact new voting restrictions and urging Congress to pass federal legislation “before it’s too late.”
Barack Obama stated that the country’s future was at stake. ““I do want people who aren’t paying close attention to what’s going on… to understand the stakes involved here, and why this debate is so critical to our country’s future,” Obama said.
The White House also stated on Monday that it considers the Senate’s work on an elections bill overhaul and the changes proposed by Manchin to be a “step forward,” despite the fact that the Democrats’ priority legislation is expected to be blocked by a Republican filibuster.
The revisions proposed by Manchin, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, are a compromise, another step in Democrats’ efforts to strengthen voting access and what Joe Biden sees as a “fight of his presidency.”
The Senate is gearing up for a showdown on Tuesday, when it will vote on the For the People Act, a massive election reform bill that would be the most significant overhaul of US voting procedures in a generation.
It is a top priority for Democrats seeking to ensure access to polling places and mail-in ballots made popular during the pandemic, but Republicans see it as a federal intrusion into state systems.
On Capitol Hill, Manchin has been a vocal Democratic Party holdout, opposing the For the People Act and insisting on bipartisan support for such legislation.
However, he introduced a list of compromises he would support last week, including 15 days of early voting and automatic voter registration. His compromise would also prohibit partisan gerrymandering and require voter identification.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has said he opposes the compromise, and many Democrats are losing hope that a vote in the Senate on Tuesday will move the legislation to the debate stage, effectively halting it.
In his most recent interview, Obama stated that both Democrats and Republicans have abused the redistricting process, but he expressed concern about efforts in Republican-controlled states to restrict voting access.
“We’ve seen once-vibrant democracies go backwards all over the world,” Obama said. “It is happening all over the world, and these impulses have crept into the United States…we are not immune to some of these efforts to weaken our democracy.”
In a post on Instagram, Michelle Obama talked of the Biden legislation fighting voter suppression and strengthening democracy.
“In recent months, there has been a movement in state legislatures across the country to pass laws that make it more difficult for people to vote. That means we need to pass the For the People Act as soon as possible. This bill is one of our best chances…to ensure that all of us have a say in our future, whether it is for pandemic relief, criminal justice, immigration, healthcare, education, or anything else,” she wrote.
Manchin had been the lone dissenter. Some members of his party support his proposed changes to the bill, and any nod from the White House lends them credibility.
He has proposed adding a national voter ID requirement, which is popular among Republicans, as well as dropping other provisions from the bill, such as the proposed public financing of campaigns.
One key voice among voting rights advocates, Georgia-based Democrat and activist Stacey Abrams, has said she might support Manchin’s proposal.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, it is clear that Democrats in the 50-50 Senate will be unable to open debate due to a Republican filibuster. In the Senate, it takes 60 votes to overcome the filibuster, and without any Republican support, the Democrats cannot move forward.